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Archive for January, 2007

Snow in Texas

Now all you northern readers don’t have to feel bad about our fun in the sun and warm weather down here in the south — because there isn’t any of either in Texas! We woke up this morning to an inch of fresh snow and more coming down. The guys here at the dealership say they haven’t seen snow here in years, and certainly not two back-to-back storms like the area has had this week.

Weatherford snow day.jpg

Of course we were completely comfortable in the trailer last night. I mention this only because a lot of people ask us if our trailer is insulated. Of course it is. Temperatures in the 20s are no big deal. So if you want to go camping in sub-freezing weather, go right ahead. Your Airstream is built to take it. All the water tanks are heated by the furnace, and there’s no need to “dry camp” as long as you can find an open dump station in the winter.

Weatherford trailers_in_snow.jpg

Today, technician Denver Russell has towed our trailer into the shop for our systems check, and a few upgrades. I’ll be documenting everything we do over the next couple of days … because we aren’t going anywhere while the roads slippery.


Oh man, it’s cold. Cold cold cold. I’m talking icicles on the trailer this morning. Frozen sewer cap. Hats and gloves while hitching up. We could be in Vermont this week and the only difference would be a few inches of snow.

Last night it was too cold to run the heat pump, and cold enough that the holding tanks had the potential to freeze, so we switched over to the furnace and started burning propane instead. The furnace blows hot air onto the holding tanks, so we really aren’t in danger of a freeze-up. It would have to be much colder (probably around zero Fahrenheit) before there would be any concern.

We finally got a break in the weather today, long enough to drive on ice-free I-20 for three hundred miles to Weatherford TX. The warmest we saw all day was 30 degrees, and it’s 25 now. With this funky weather pattern, it doesn’t look like we’ll catch a break for at least a week, and we might get more freezing rain in the next few days.

But at least we are here, parked at Roger Williams Airstream for service over the next three days. Freezing rain won’t be a big concern since we have nowhere to go, and the service center has a heated bay that they’ll tow us into every day. Quite a contrast however from our last visit — it hit 100 degrees when we were here last May.

We’ve got a full slate of stuff to have done on the trailer, both maintenance and upgrades, so watch carefully for the next few days. We’ll also be catching up with some friends. So even though it’s cold, it should be interesting and fun.

Sorry no pics today. But yesterday I uploaded a lot of photos from our recent adventures, to our photo album. Check ’em out!

A chef in the trailer

We received this email from blog reader Larry Ko:

I love to cook Chinese, Cajun, Mexican, and Italian, making do with ingredients on hand. My kitchen is stocked with lots of infrequently used kitchen tools. What tools and appliances do you feel are a functional must for your AS kitchen? What basic items do you keep stocked in your pantry?

Hi Larry!
Good to hear from you. Lots of people ask the same questions you just asked, so I think this time I’ll “blog” the answers.

We don’t eat out a lot, but we are full-timers that travel around a lot. So, as we travel, I like to pick up local food items and cook with what I purchased. We always try to go to farmers markets and those little roadside stops that offer unusual local fare, like smoked fish, tangerines from 7th generation trees, garlic fried peanuts, or mutton tacos with a pickled serrano.

If you plan to camp some place remote, and want to have the “local fare” for your meals, pick up what you need along the way instead of packing it ahead of time. But, if you plan to be in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and think you may want Thai or Cajun, then make plenty of room and pack it with you. My philosophy is “I can always hand-wash t-shirts and undies but I can’t purchase gumbo filé in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.”

What basic items do you keep stocked in your pantry?

Fresh is best, so our refrigerator is always full. However, we gravitate toward out of the way places where diverse food items are not readily available. As a professional cook, there are certain things I refuse to do without. I love to cook many different cuisines, so I have way too much stuff in the “pantry”. Even though each thing is in small/single quantity, I still manage to fill four rubbermaid tubs, two overheads, and one cabinet. Rich complains that we have a trailer full of ingredients, but nothing to eat. 😉

My staple ingredients are:

rice: Basmati or Jasmine, Arborio (for risotto), wild, brown, and dried rice paper rounds (Vietnamese salad wrappers)
pasta: long, short, pearl, couscous
barley, lentils, flour (all-purpose & whole wheat), oatmeal, cornmeal, white grits, biscuit mix, baking powder & baking soda, white cake mix
raw honey, molasses, pure Vermont maple syrup and sugar: granulated, raw, dark brown, confectioners
tea: black, green, white, red, herbal (We don’t just drink it, I cook with it too.)
coffee: drip, perk, espresso
peanut butter, cashew or almond butter, white & black sesame seeds, unsweetened dry coconut
various dried fruits & assorted raw nuts (good for snacking & cooking), unsweetened chocolate, chocolate chips
oils: olive (reg. & Extra-virgin), soybean, macadamia, cooking spray
vinegar: balsamic (white & red), cider
salt: kosher, sea, iodized
pepper: whole black peppercorns, coarse & fine grind, white fine grind
canned/jarred: red & green chilies, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, corn, black beans, mushrooms, coconut milk, coconut water, evaporated milk, olives, artichoke hearts, pineapple, pickles, salsa, garlic, ginger, basil, tamari, mirin, fish sauce, hoisin, nori, red & green curry paste
broth: chicken, beef, vegetable Progresso soups (for when I’m too tired to cook or we are very short on time)
wine: 2 dry reds & 1 white
dried herbs & spices: whole green cardamom, cumin, coriander, fennel, paprika, bay leaf, saffron threads, orange peel, lemon grass, sage, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, ancho chilies, chili powder, ground & stick cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, red pepper flakes, gumbo filé, curry powder, and my own mixes for dry rubs, bbq, & Indian masala

What tools and appliances do you feel are a functional must for your AS kitchen?

Now I need to be able to prepare and serve all those ingredients. As you know, storage space and weight are an issue, so I try to make sure that the things I have can serve more than one purpose. For example, the carafe of my 4-cup coffee maker is also used as a teapot, a pitcher, and a gravy boat.

I didn’t bring my “best” cookware — too heavy and too large. But I don’t like “non-stick” aluminum pans, so I purchased a standard 7 pc. set of mid-weight, durable, stainless steel pans (by Wearever) with the sandwiched-disk style bottom. To this, I added my favorite “risotto” pan, and an 8″ fry pan with sloped sides. Our friend Brad brings his favorite cast iron skillet for “blackened” cajun dishes he loves to prepare.

I also have:
-small roasting pan with a collapsable rack that multi-tasks as a cooling rack and trivet
-broiling pan (purchased as an extra from the oven manufacturer)
-4 qt. crock pot with removable “crock” – multi tasks as a “deep” casserole dish w/ lid, and a great way to slowly reheat or keep foods warm
-4 cup auto-drip coffee maker and a 6-cup stove top percolator (when there’s no electric and I still want coffee)
-2 cup stove top espresso pot (what can I say… I like coffee)
-hand blender (not mixer) and a 2-slice toaster
-3 pc. stainless steel mixing bowl set (multi-tasks as salad/serving/storage bowls)
-small metal colander and a small fine mesh strainer
-four culinary knives: 1 each – paring, 8″ serrated, 8″ chef’s, 6″ slicing
-small bamboo cutting board (doubles as a cheese board) and a medium one for use with my larger knives
-two serving spoons, 1 serving fork, metal tongs (multi tasks as salad/cooking/bbq tongs)
-two metal spatulas, 3 rubber spatulas and 3 wooden spoons of various sizes/shapes
-manual can opener, cork screw/bottle opener, citrus zester, instant read thermometer, pastry brush, small “box” grater, vegetable peeler, egg slicer, and kitchen scissors
-six metal skewers, a 2 oz. ladle, ice cream scoop, 1 cup measure and measuring spoon set
– metal serving platter, two metal pie plates, a bread basket and a fruit basket
– four oven mitts that double as hot plates
– disposable plastic containers of various sizes/shapes
– 4 bottle wall-mounted stainless steel wine rack (from IKEA)
– under-cabinet mounted paper towel holder
– wireless remote digital thermometer for the refrigerator (ambient temperature affects the refrigerator’s performance so I adjust the setting accordingly)
– “Corelle” dinnerware, four each: dinner, salad/sandwich, & dessert plates, soup & dessert bowls
– 4 stackable coffee mugs (from IKEA), a 5 pc. flatware set for four, and 4 steak knives (Man can only eat off paper and plastic for so long.)

We also have a small “disposable” (good for about 12 uses) charcoal grill that we store in the outer compartment, and a step stool so Emma can operate at a proper counter height and I can see what’s in the back of the overhead compartments. 😉

I didn’t start our trip with all this stuff aboard. It is a 15-month culmination of things I decided I wanted to have along in my kitchen for comfort as well as function. To help you determine what should be in you kitchen, I can suggest this technique: Put what you consider your kitchen necessities out onto your counter, review each piece and see if any can be used for more than one purpose. Those are the “keepers”.

Other items that are favorites or “must haves” are next, and so forth. You can cut a lot out with this type of process. Then find a place in your kitchen for everything you picked out – in order of importance. Make sure that the most frequently used or favored items are easy to access. Then cook a few meals in it. You will find that you missed some items, but also that you packed ones you didn’t use. Swap them out. I know there are things in my kitchen I could do without, but it would make cooking less fun, and I want to enjoy my kitchen — small as it may be.

Touch of fame

We’re still waiting for the Dallas / Ft Worth area to get out from under that ice storm. The word from our on-the-spot reporters is not great: continued rain and ice expected into Monday at least.

We got a taste of it, but nothing serious. It rained all night. The rain stopped this morning and while we were in the matinee watching “Charlotte’s Web,” the skies parted to give us a reasonably nice 72 degree day. The lake flooded a little from all the rain last night, covering some of the bike path and all of the docks, but since all the campsites are located about 20 feet above the lake level, we’re in no danger. I can’t say the same for the people of the D/FW area, where patchy ice and frozen bridges are undoubtedly wreaking havoc.

While were at the theater today ordering a gigantic bucket of popcorn, the staff came up to us waving today’s Ruston Daily Leader. “You’re the family in the newspaper!” Yep, there we are on page 8A (Business Section), under the headline “Taking your business on the road”. Another small-town Ruston moment.

Click here to download the
article as PDF (612 kb)

Will we be on the road in the morning? It’s anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised to be here another day.

Lucky break

Strange weather. Instead of getting colder and rainy, our weather actually improved, while Texas went into the deep freeze. Emma and I rode three laps around the lake here at Lincoln Parish Park (about 3 miles) under partly sunny skies and temperatures that eventually reached into the mid 70s.

Ruston bike ride.jpg

Emma, ready for her ride

Eleanor took advantage of the opportunity to open the windows and vents, by cooking. She pulled out some ingredients and started a homemade soup in the crock pot.

Meanwhile, just a hundred miles to the west it was 30 degrees with freezing rain. I heard this from our friend Paul in Paradise TX:

It’s still 28 out now. Close to 1/4″ of ice on everything. I just finished filling the water tank on the International and going into town to top off the propane bottles. With the amount of ice they are forecasting, if the powerlines go down, we’ll have a safe haven with utilities.

And from our friend John in Austin, TX:

Sit tight! We have had over 6″ of rain in the last 24 hours. All kinds of reports of water rescues and road closings on TV. Many homes in south Austin are inundated; just saw a photo on TV of water up to a chair seat in a south Austin home. All indications are for an ice storm tomorrow and 3 to 4 sub-freezing nights with sporadic rain. They are even forecasting “thunder-sleet”, which is quite rare in this area. A tornado hit San Marcos, 20 miles south of us, and did some major damage. I-35 was closed in San Marcos due to lines down across the highway. I may even miss my weekly breakfast taco tomorrow morning.

So we made the right call in staying here in lovely warm dry Ruston. And Scott, having heard that we were “stuck” here, met us in town and handed us a set of movie coupons so we can go see something on Sunday when it’s supposed to be raining. Kyle from the tourism bureau also called up and offered me a set of tickets to tonight’s basketball game at the college. The “Lady Techsters” are playing. Man, this is too cushy … but I passed on the tix only because we knew Emma wouldn’t be up for it.

While in town we stopped off at the local hardware store to get propane, and I ran into Jody Backus, who owns the store. Jody and I happened to meet yesterday at the reception for the governor. In addition to being a local businessman, he’s also a member of the “Police Jury” which is sort of a Louisiana name for a town council. It turns out his grandfather owned an Airstream, too, and did some cool modifications on it. Jody is going to try to find me some pictures of it.

Ruston Jody Backus.jpg

Jody Backus, in the red shirt

Running into him again so soon really reminded me of how I’ve been feeling about Ruston all week: it’s a big town with a small town feel. Everyone’s so friendly … and everyone seems to know everyone else.

This afternoon I was sitting at our picnic table enjoying the warm south breeze and reading, when a fellow on a mountain bike came riding up. Turns out he was James Ramseur, who has been running the Parish Park since 1996. He designed the mountain bike trails, and lives right in the park with his family.

Ruston lake.jpg

Our Airstream (left, in the trees) and a vintage 60s Airstream alongside the lake

We told James that the park was too cheap at $20 for a lakeside site with full hookups, but he said people had complained it was too much! Incredible. It’s a steal. This park is excellent, with the woodsy feel of a state park but plenty of amenities, including bicycling and walking trails, a sand beach with swimming area, gazebos, docks, and rental spaces for gatherings. Plus three bars on the cell phone, Verizon Internet works, and we’re only a few miles from everything. We had a nice talk before he had to ride off with his 10-year-old son.

So today has been very nice and we’re happy to stay on a little longer. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll go out for lunch, see a movie, or even visit a plantation home. There’s still plenty to do in Lincoln Parish while we wait for Texas to warm up and dry out.


Last night we culminated our visit with dinner at the Squire Creek Country Club with Jody and Joe. Well, we thought this was the end, but things are turning out differently.

Ruston SQ dinner.jpg
Dinner with Joe, Jody, Eleanor, and Emma

Eleanor and I were up late last night examining the weather forecasts, trying to decide whether to go or not to go to Weatherford TX in the morning. There’s a frontal boundary draped across I-20 just west of the Texas border, and it is moving slowly. Here, it is in the 60s heading for 72 degrees today. We ran the air conditioner last night. But we’ll be getting heavy rain all weekend, so it won’t be much fun.

Ruston weather map.jpg

On the other side of the front in Texas, it is another world: about 30 degrees with ice forming. I called David Tidmore (of Roger Williams Airstream) on his cell phone this morning, and he reported that his shop is closed today. He said, “We’re having an ice storm. You would be more than insane to come here today.” OK. Towing on ice is bad enough to stop us, but towing on ice in the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex is a nightmare I don’t even want to imagine.

Although this decision might seem clear-cut, it was actually tough to make until I spoke to David. We had plans to courtesy park with our friends the Mayeux, and it would have been really fun. I wanted to go for it. It was a big disappointment to call our friends and tell them we weren’t going to see them. But “get-there-itis” will kill you. When you’re on a trip, keep this in mind. No matter how many plans will be upset by cancelling a trip, it’s still less disruptive than an accident on ice.

There’s not much point in going halfway, either. Between here and Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex there are some campgrounds but nothing we really feel like visiting in near-freezing temperatures and rain. Better to stay put in rainy warm weather, where we know a few people and can do some errands.

So we’ll be in Ruston two more days. Who would have figured this would become a major stop? I’ll go find propane, clean out some stuff in the trailer and ship it home, and we’ll watch movies and do some home schooling. Eleanor has a major blog entry to share with you as well … which you will not believe. We’ll post that later this weekend.

Tour de Ruston

With all the running around we’ve been doing, I haven’t had a chance to really examine or talk about our current residence, Lincoln Parish Park. It’s small, with just 33 sites. The camping area surrounds a 30-acre lake, which is ringed by a paved trail for walking. Most of the back-in sites are directly on the lake, as ours is, and the pull-throughs are very close also. At just $20 per night for full hookups, it’s a bargain.

But the best feature is the world-class mountain biking trails all through the park. Scott wasn’t kidding about the mountain biking here. This part of Louisiana has hills and just enough elevation for trails that can challenge beginners and advanced riders. A whole bunch of triathlons and competitive mountain bike rides are held here each year. I wish I had a mountain bike just for a day … I’d like to at least look at the fabled “Tomac Hill” drop-off that goes 120 feet down followed by a big jump.

We picked up mail yesterday, and found a few surprises. Since I announced our General Delivery address to the world last week, two friends sent things for us. Dr. C sent a couple of books: A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, and On the Border by Tom Miller. (I’ll report on these later.)

Spotted Dick.jpg

Brad and Mary sent us a can of Spotted Dick, with this note: Enclosed you will find what you have all been looking for all of your lives. Portable English pudding.

Ruston Mary Margaret.jpg

Today we met with Mary Margaret van Diest, a reporter for the local newspaper. Mary Margaret interviewed us (I’ll provide a link to the interview when it comes out) and then gave us a tour of the Ruston Daily Leader’s office and printing facility.

Ruston muffaletta.jpg

The tourism guys took us out for lunch at Ponchatoula’s, a local spot. Eleanor and I ordered a muffaletta to split, but the darned thing was so huge we could only eat half of it. Chris, the owner, came by and chuckled about it: “I love to watch people try to eat the whole thing.”

Ruston military museum.jpg

Just a couple of blocks from downtown there is the small Louisiana Military Museum. For $2 admission (kids free) it’s well worth visiting. The two main rooms are jammed with display cases of artifacts from the Spanish American War, Civil War, WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. The collection of weapons and uniforms alone are very impressive. There’s also a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and a Huey outside. I’ve been told they have far more in the collection that can’t be displayed simply for lack of room, so the parish leadership is trying to find the museum a larger location.

I also took a quick tour of the Parish history museum, which is housed in an 1886 mansion. So now I know the secret of why Ruston is where it is … Mr. Russ cut a deal with the railroad to come through his 600+ acres and the railroad company laid out his town. Good politickin’.

Ruston Governor Blanco.jpg
Me, Governor Blanco and Scott Terry

Speaking of politics, you’ll never guess who I ran into today. Well, you might since I let the cat out of the bag yesterday. Governor Kathleen Blanco was visiting and my buddies insisted on introducing us. I showed her my new “Hurricane Relief” wristband and told her that people all over the country were still thinking about what happened. (It’s not over … not by a long shot.)

This is supposed to be our last night in Ruston, but we’re looking at a nasty weather system west of here. There may be icing or heavy rain in Texas this weekend. If things look bad on Saturday morning we’ll spend another day here.

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